God in the Ordinary

In South Sudan I experienced one of the hardest transitions of my life. I had heard that there would be a honeymoon period, and from my experience with interns and apprentices, that is usually the case. However, the moment our little tiny plane hit the dirt strip in Mundri, and my eyes caught sight of all the curious faces watching us get off the plane to start our new life, I started crying and didn’t stop. In that moment I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and humiliated. This was supposed to be the life I had dreamed about for three years of fund raising and we were finally there – I should have been victorious. Instead I found myself wilting in the humidity, exhausted from the extreme difference of this new culture, and not able to focus on a single thing our poor teammates on the ground were trying to say to us.

Mundri airstrip. (PC Reed family)

These guys were heroes. Two single guys who had been there on their own for a few months and were so happy to have on there with them, yet they also had to be a bit overwhelmed on how to help this new family adjust and adapt. To top that all off we were supposed to be the team leaders! What were we thinking?

We had traveled from Uganda that morning after spending the week fighting jet lag, shopping for groceries for three months (I had NO idea what I needed for three months!!), meeting new missionaries that would be our life line in the months to come, buying phones and sim cards, eating out at restaurants that we would not be seeing for a quite a while, and getting paperwork ready. In the end the 18 bins we brought from the States and the majority of groceries we bought in country couldn’t even come with us on our move to South Sudan because of weight issues on the tiny plane. Though it was coming in twice a week at that point there was no guarantee of how soon we would get our things, and though I tried to pick and choose the “important” things, I was just plain defeated by the time we landed and felt stripped of anything familiar.

The “toilet”

The first few weeks were spent understanding solar power, getting use to using outdoor pit toilets with cockroaches, figuring out how to say basic Arabic phrases so I could shop in the market even though I wasn’t even sure how to use some of the foods. I went to bed crying and woke up crying. In between I made bread, yogurt, homeschooled, cleaned, tried to find a language partner, and spent time getting to know our teammates before more came the following month. Later a friend told us, “Yeah, all the women cry when they move here. I don’t really understand why, but it’s true.” At least I was normal!

But we are amazing beings, us humans. We learn to adapt and change and (dare I say) even enjoy new things. One morning as I was praying that God would help me (a prayer that became as common as breathing to me at the time) I heard him tell me to start looking for him in the things and people around me. Find him in the ordinary. Invite him into the everyday and embrace it. Stop looking for the huge miracle of everything being “normal” and start believing that he was in even the most foreign thing and that made it extraordinary and beautiful. I had to look at my “new normal” as being something beautiful and life giving.

New teammates came and we learned to do communal meals – eating together becoming a normal thing where we could laugh and process. We had extra people to help with school so I could do something besides cook and teach, and life started to take on it’s own rhythms again. I found a language partner and spent many hours sitting at her stall in the marketplace learning words and phrases and laughing as she made me “sell” her wares to people coming by. I began what would be a beautiful friendship with the Bishop’s wife as we shelled nuts together, baked cookies, and sat with each other at the numerous church things I was supposed to attend as team leader’s wife. These friendships developed from doing the ordinary, everyday things together. I started to see Him in these ordinary things, and as I did, my heart started to accept and even like my life there.

Sometimes I want to see the big things – the miraculous. I think this is ok. God tells us that he is able to do more than we can ask or even imagine, so I believe he loves us to ask for these things. However that cannot become our only communication with him. When God told me to look for him in the everyday I started to know him better, deeper. I started to see his life in other people and even in the creation around me. I stopped feeling disappointed and scared and started seeing things with wonder and awe.

Not always – sometimes I couldn’t handle one more child pointing at me and yelling, “Hello white person” over and over (and over) again. Sometimes seeing him in my surroundings felt impossible when it was 115 and the solar power wasn’t working well enough to even run a fan. Sometimes I still cried as I went to bed wondering if we had ruined our children and committed ourselves to five years of insanity. But usually the next day, in the brief coolness of morning with a fresh cup of coffee I was able to see him again and be thankful.

Where do you need to start seeing him in your ordinary? I know for me, right now in Covid times, I have spent many days that seem to run one into another. I am in an opposite times of what I was in Mundri, as there seems to be nothing new and boredom seeps in. But I have been asking him to show me himself in these times as well. In playing a board game with my kids; in spending more time lingering over a meal together; in taking walks in the evening and greeting neighbors that I normally wouldn’t have a chance to know; in figuring out how to love others when I cannot be with them in person; in playing the keyboard and spending time writing.

Whatever the season, we need to be intentional in looking for him in the ordinary moments. When we do, we will know him in deeper, steadier ways than we have before.

PC Reed family

Beast of Burden

2016

“Bullet is just eating everything, leaves, trees, ground, person. Eating them. Just making person to bleed everywhere. We are just like wild animals now, with no place to be going. Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.”     -Agu, Beasts of No Nation

(Warning, if you haven’t watched Beasts of No Nation and want to without knowing the story, don’t read any further.  There will be spoilers.)

Tonight I watched a movie that just about ripped my heart out.  I had to stop it several times and compose myself.  Beasts of No Nation was filmed in Ghana and is about an unnamed country in Africa.  But honestly, I felt like I was watching a documentary of South Sudan.  It has taken criticism from some, talking about how it makes it seem like all of Africa is one in the same.  To me, it just reminds me that all of the world – all of humanity – is the same.  We are broken.  We are evil at heart.  We are hurting and surviving living a world of people who are hurting and surviving.  There are things out of our control, out of our reach that we feel we cannot do anything about, and so we turn a blind eye and deaf ear.

Until we know the Truth.

I watched in horror as  Agu’s family was killed by rogue, power-hungry government soldiers and he ran.  I watched, sobbing, as he was captured by rebel soldiers and initiated into “manhood.” I covered my face and felt sick to my stomach as he killed his first man – an engineer there to build new roads and not involved in the war at all – with a machete, and then I couldn’t stop looking in shocked horror as he hacked and hacked after that first blow because his little, abused, boy body and mind were so filled with anger and  sorrow and confusion.  I almost gagged as the Commandant, a charismatic sociopath made Agu feel like he was his father, yet brought him into his bed and did unspeakable things to him.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, but I believe you should watch it.  (Not children!  This is not a family movie!)  It will make you react in ways that you should question and process – especially if you have children or if you know anyone who lives in places like this.  It will remind you what so many people are facing and dealing with.  It will be a call to prayer and battle.

My thoughts and heart were giving me whiplash as I went back and forth between remembering the boys in Mundri who could very well be facing these situations in their lives, and my own boys – particularly RJ, who is about the age that Agu is in the movie.

I thought of the boys who made signs for our house when we first moved to Mundri.  We played Uno together to learn Arabic numbers and colors.  My kids baked delicious pumpkin bread with them.  They helped do work around town to earn Futball jerseys, and would work full days to get these precious gifts.  The loved wrestling and John Cena and Futball  (Soccer) and Fanta.  They went to school when it was open and studied hard to pass exams, which were their only hope out.  They climbed mango trees and ate until their bellies were extended during mango season.  They played with my boys – slingshots, fishing, ball, running around and exploring.  These are the kids that the monsters are targeting.  These are the same types of boys that are picking up machine guns and killing whole villages, that are slaughtering with machetes, raping women who could be their mom’s age, and traveling with some of the most dangerous men you could ever meet.  But here’s the kicker for me – these are not just boys on a movie or in a book or the news cast.  I now KNOW these boys.  The have real names, faces, families, dreams.

And RJ…my RJ.  What would he do if I was taken from him, or John, Andrew, and Shawn were killed in front of him.  What if Anna was given, kicking and screaming, to a soldier for his payment that month because there was no more money and the soldiers on both sides were demanding some sort of compensation.  What if he were forced through an initiation like that, where it was kill or be killed?  Is it possible that his extremely sensitive heart and emotions could be hardened and perverted because of pain and trauma?  Of course it is…he is human.

And I can’t get my mind around it all.

Each day I hear news from South Sudan that makes me weep.  I read news about Syria and Brussles and other places and I just want to to turn my head and thank God that it’s not me.  Because he can’t really expect me to carry that pain with me all the time, can he?  What kind of burden can I bear?

“I saw terrible things… and I did terrible things. So if I’m talking to you, it will make me sad and it will make you too sad. In this life… I just want to be happy in this life. If I’m telling this to you… you will think that… I am some sort of beast… or devil. I am all of these things… but I also having mother… father… brother and sister once. They loved me.”  (Agu)

I plead, “Oh God of justice, please act.  Lord of mercy, intervene.  Father of Love, pour down your Spirit on this broken world.”  And he says, “I am here.  I am in you and my church – my bride.  I am present and I will overcome this evil.  But for now I want you to fight.”

Friends, it’s time to wake up and fight.  We cannot turn a blind eye anymore.  We need to remind this world that they do have a Father that loves them.